The beloved Cortez antique shop Sea Hagg is—now was—a nautical museum of seafaring, with a story behind every item.
It was an ode to the life of sea dwellers both mythical and real. From top to bottom, and even outside, Jan Holman’s shop overflowed with ships’ portholes, cast bronze propellers, sailors’ compasses and nautical clocks. A kayak hull hung from a ceiling, as did chandeliers made from fish hooks. Glass cases were stuffed with fossils, tortoise shells and coral, and there were plenty of cheaper, touristy objects like shells, jewelry, cute seahorses and mermaids of all sizes. A boat on the property named the Deanna Belle and The Sea Hagg Art Car, complete with a mermaid tail, had been in many parades and events over the years.
In short, it’s the kind of place that would put Ariel the mermaid's cave of treasures to shame. (In fact, designers from Disney World shopped there regularly.)
But after 25 years, Holman is closing the store's doors with stormy feelings, as she empties the space at 12304 Cortez Road West of its many treasures.
“The shop has been my social life for 25 years," Holman says. "People are pulling in with their Ohio and Michigan plates like they do every year, to come to see what’s new. When they see it’s closed, they’re shocked and their shoulders slump and that makes me feel so bad. I’m good until people say something nice and recount what they bought and say how they'll miss it. I get so choked up. It's nice, but gosh darn, it's just hard."
“My house is filled with things from The Sea Hagg,” says Longboat Key resident and Sea Hagg fan Peggy Lammers. Take the paintings of three nude women that Lammers calls "the teacup girls" that hang in her powder room. “[Holman] has an uncanny sense of what someone likes and is without parallel for picking up things people wouldn't realize would fit," Lammers says. "She has kick-in-the-pants ideas but is never pushy."
Among Holman’s favorites of the roughly 800 items in the shop are the pillars outside made of coral, stone, pottery pieces, amethysts and shells that she collected over the years. “I love, love, love them, but I can't keep them because they're bigger than my house,” she says.
Holman got an early start in antiques in Ohio, Missouri and Texas. Dreaming of warm sunny days and coastal breezes, she found a canvas shop with vaulted ceilings and a large front yard and bought it. Soon, Cortez fishermen were bringing her old buoys, netting and crab traps, and she began showcasing the work of local artists and all kinds of other items—like a huge dredging ball made into a fountain that was sold. It took four hours to take out and it’s going in someone's yard.
“It was hard watching that go,” Holman says. But taking down The Sea Hagg sign that has an iron mermaid coming out its top was the biggest challenge. “I lost it when that came down,” Holman says. That piece is headed home with her.
Just a block away from the shop, Holman's home, a 1,000-square-foot “Cortez cottage,” as she calls it, will remain her residence, as long as it can withstand her growing collection.
“My poor house right now," she says. "You can't even walk in it. All these things that have come here. It’s a wonder my floor hasn't fallen in.”
Holman says she will use her newfound free time to travel to see her grandchildren in Missouri, who range from age 4 to 17. “I just want to be able to go visit my grandkids and not have to run back," she says. "They're my joy right now.”
The Seafood Shack, Owen’s Fish Camp and St. Armands Oyster Bar are just a few of the restaurants that have The Sea Hagg’s magic design touch, and Holman plans on continuing to steward and consult on all things Sea Hagg, including building an online shop and taking on design projects and special events. She’s also working on a coffee table book with photos and stories.
“I hate that the shop will be gone, because it has always been a resource for creativity," Lammers says. "But onto the next chapter and I'm excited for her. I know it will be a creative chapter."
Holman is keeping the name of the new owner a secret, but the buyer is from Longboat Key, and the plan is to open another gift shop that will probably showcase another aesthetic.
Still, “nothing can replace The Sea Hagg,” Lammers says.
Check out the shop's Facebook page and Instagram account for upcoming auction opportunities or email [email protected] for more information on how to acquire Sea Hagg items. An auction that will showcase nautical antiques off-site is scheduled for February 2023.